Bear with me for a second, I will get to the question.
I come from a very legalistic background. Through some very difficult circumstances, I broke through my ingnorance of that situation, and now am trying to start over with my belief system.
I have been reading parts of a book called “The Divine Conspiracy” by Dallas Willard. This book has really challenged me, and opened me up to how Christ really wants us to live our lives.
Now for the question. Sometimes when I am doing something that some might consider “controversial” (having a beer, etc…) I start to question myself, and feel guilty. Is this just my old legalistic mind creeping up on me, or is this me being convicted? I know this might be a tough question for you to answer since you don’t really know me, but I would really appreciate any guidance you could offer.
This is how I personally distinguish conviction vs. legalism:
If the “feeling” (for lack of a better term) comes with fear and/or condemnation, it’s legalism. If you start worrying “gee, maybe God doesn’t love me anymore now that I’ve ____________ (insert questionable thing here)” or “am I going to hell now?” or “this life is too hard, I’m a bad Christian, I should just give up now, blah blah blah,” that is not of God.
If it’s a gentle “hey, you really shouldn’t be doing that so knock it off” kind of thing, it’s conviction. Remember, the book says that God is slow to anger: you’d hafta try really really hard to get Him to actually yell at you. But even with a sharp rebuke, IME, He’ll never condemn YOU, just what you’re doing.
As far as the beer, it’s not sinful but you need to hear from God as to whether or not it’s beneficial for you. We are free, yes, but sometimes there are things that we shouldn’t do not because they’re sinful, but for other reasons – and I think these things are different for everyone.